The proliferation of new digital and mobile technology is transforming the fitness industry like never before. To stay competitive, fitness centre owners should consider how to leverage these technologies to improve efficiencies, drive memberships and enhance their customer experience.
“The common catchphrase in the industry at the moment is technology is like a ‘disruptor’,” says Justin Tamsett, managing director of Active Management, which supports fitness business owners, managers and entrepreneurs.
“I actually think technology is an enabler in our industry. Technology can make your business run far more efficiently, effectively and more profitably.
“A lot of the boutique clubs, in the US particularly, are embracing technology. They’re embracing heart rate monitoring, they’re embracing gamification, and they’re using emails and email communication as a tool to generate leads and to retain clients much better than most Australian clubs are.”
Award-winning Willows Health and Lifestyle Centre in Toowoomba, Queensland, is one Australian fitness centre keeping pace with its US counterparts, implementing technology effectively across its business – from developing club-based social media profiles and using software to streamline back-of-house functions such as accounting, rosters and pay, to tapping into the apps and wearables clients are already using.
Keen to redefine what a fitness membership looks like, Willows worked in partnership with a software developer to create a customised health and fitness portal for clients.
“Willows is really about customer-inspired innovation,” says managing director Troy Morgan. “So really understanding what a day for our clients looks like. What we can help them with outside of our fitness membership, because we’re already doing that well.”
Using insights from client surveys and focus groups, Willows designed a portal that enables clients to access their fitness program and book into fitness and other health-related classes from anywhere at any time. Clients can also share their information with their physiotherapist, GP or other health professionals via the portal, which provides a more holistic health and fitness experience.
Willows’ client portal has been a huge success, enhancing teamwork around health and wellbeing and adding considerable value for customers. And thanks to the software Willows uses to automate admin and finance tasks, staff have more time in their day to innovate and connect with clients.
When deciding how best to integrate technology into your fitness business, Morgan recommends starting small and having a clear vision of what you’d like to achieve. “It’s about understanding where you want to go with it, but being flexible with how you get there,” he says.
“It’s about working with your employee team and your members, and being patient, because change is hard.” For fitness businesses with a limited budget, Morgan says a good starting point is getting to know the apps and wearables clients are already using, such as MYZONE, Fitbit and Runkeeper.
Encourage clients to share their apps and data with you, so you can continue to monitor them outside the hour or so you spend with them each week,” he says. “The advantage for our fitness business is that we help people engage in those apps, rather than just an app base where people drop out. It’s that human connection that creates the trust. The technology is an enhancement, it’s not the driver.”
When it comes to incorporating technology into your fitness centre, Tamsett advises not getting caught up in the bells and whistles of everything that’s out there. “Ask yourself, one: how am I going to make it easy for my prospects to join? Two: how do I get my members to use the club more and get more results?”
Ten ways you can embrace technology in your fitness centre
01 Social Media: Set up club-based social media profiles (and update and monitor these regularly).
02 Interactive Website: Develop a user-friendly and interactive club website (consider incorporating a health and fitness blog and online membership purchases).
03 Online Advertising: Use targeted online advertising to generate leads.
04 Email Communication: Send regular email newsletters to your database with news, tips and offers.
05 Wearables: Get to know the wearables and apps your clients are already using (including MYZONE, Fitbit and Runkeeper).
06 Direct Debit: Set up monthly direct debit membership payments (using a provider such as Ezidebit).
07 Software: Use software to manage memberships or to streamline admin or finance tasks (such as ClientConnect, MINDBODY or ThinkSmart).
08 Mobile Apps: Develop a club-based mobile app or member portal.
09 Online Programs: Participate in ClassPass or a similar online program.
10 Virtual Training: Provide virtual training services for members.
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